MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – After an abrupt end to the Mille Lacs walleye fishing season, Minnesota’s governor is ramping up his push for a special session for state financial aid.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday called the lake’s historically low walleye population both a crisis and an emergency.
On Aug. 3, the Department of Natural Resources ended walleye fishing for the remainder of the season after it determined the annual harvest quota had been exceeded.
Immediately following that news, a special legislative working group began considering financial help for resorts and businesses hurt by the drop in tourism. Any aid package would have to be agreed to by both legislative houses before lawmakers would be called into special session.
The bi-partisan panel is considering a possible $20 million aid plan to soften the blow to Mille Lacs area resorts and businesses.
Panel member Dale Lueck, a representative from Aitkin, said the close of walleye fishing “is having a consistent negative impact on the economy around the lake.
“It’s the gas stations, grocery store, hardware stores,” he said.
But one day after the working group was dismissed for the week, Dayton criticized some of the ideas generated by the panel.
Those include renegotiating Native American walleye quotas, continued sport fishing and, at the very least, allowing for catch and release of walleye through 2015.
A disappointed Dayton responded.
“What we need is emergency relief — restock the lakes and replenish the supply of walleye,” he said. “We’re not going to turn this around next month.”
The lake’s walleye population has been in decline for a number of years. The DNR cites a number of causes for that, from larger fish preying on young walleye to warmer water temperatures and the explosion of invasive species.
Furthermore, the agency refutes the idea that tribal netting by Native American bands during the spring spawning season is to blame.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said a restocking plan is already in the works.
“We have prepared a plan for how we could re-stock,” he said. “We’re prepared this summer to go out and begin an egg capture program and identify a hatchery where we can hatch those eggs.”
But because of the invasive species present in Mille Lacs, the agency will need to find a “bio-secured” hatchery. That is essential to ensure hatchery operations wouldn’t be harmed or further spread those aquatic pests.
Meanwhile, Dayton said he is still planning a trip to Mille Lacs on Saturday, where he will be fishing for smallmouth bass.